2019 VÉLOTOPO CHALLENGE
The World's Toughest Ultra-Cycling Race:Northcape–Tarifa
Every year, here at VeloTopo, we've been riding extreme cycling challenges.
We find that aiming for a hard to reach challenge helps us to stay fiercely motivated when it comes to our training goals. Motivation ebbs and flows, and without a dedicated goal to boost our interest and integrity, it would be easy to fall into a slump with our training.
Committing to a cycling goal is not only a major motivating factor that gets us in the saddle every day, but it also delivers a great mental boost and gives our rides a new sense of daily purpose.
In the past, we have tackled some tough challenges
For over 10 years we've been riding the major mountain cyclosportives looking for greater challenges and eventually moved on to ultra-one-day races.
In 2016 we rode the TDF historical stage of Luchon-Bayonne one-day race (320 km / 6,200m), pushing through freezing rains. The same year Jean-Philippe celebrated his fiftieth birthday by undertaking his own challenge to cross the entire mountain chain of the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in 3 days.
In 2017 we rode the World’s toughest one day race of Tour du Mont-Blanc (330 km / 8200m).
In 2018 we raced the Mallorca 312 (312 km / 5000m) and La Purito (145 km / 5200m) under a grueling heatwave and with such extreme weather, we felt that La Purito was even harder than the Tour du Mont-Blanc.
We’ve finished the toughest one-day ultra races and we wondered what could be next.
How could we take the Ultra-Cycling Challenges up another level?
The World's Toughest Ultra-Cycling Race
Northcape–Tarifa: 15 countries / 7370 km / 80,000 meters including a full crossing of the Alps
Since 2018 the Northcape–Tarifa race pushed human limits beyond anything imaginable. Imagine a one stage race that crosses 15 countries from the most northern asphalted road in mainland Europe to the southern tip of Spain. CapeNorth is located in Northern Norway, a stone throws from the Arctic circle where the green and gold boreal auroras can be seen flashing across the winter sky and summers bring around the clock daylight. Tarifa is located even further South than Gibraltar. From its shore, you see the hazy coast of Africa.
Unlike most other races that generally include more time on flat roads than mountains, not only does the CapeNorth-Tarifa crosses multiple countries, it also includes the entire Alpine mountain range starting in Austria and winding through Italy, Switzerland and its entire range crossing the country of France until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. The route then continues with the crossing of the Pyrenees, covering the full mountain chain of Spain, and Europe’s tallest road. The road isn’t asphalted all the way to the top, and the ascent to the tip of Mt-Veletta is nearly 4,000 meter high. The total is a staggering 7370 km with 80,000 meters of climbing.
You may wonder why in the world people would ever wish to put themselves through so much suffering in an attempt to tackle this wild and impossible event. So, did we. And this is why we decided to register and find out by ourselves.
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Check the fantastisc gear from our sponsors
To attempt such an extreme race, we've searched for the absolute best products and we're grateful to our sponsors and even more proud to feature their gear.
We'll post detailed information about all our best gear during and after the race on Facebook. Discover our sponsors below and Follow us to know our thoughts and experience with their gear and products.
The best Bikepacking bags
Arkel, a Canadian brand most bike tourists will know for their fantastic panniers, entered the bikepacking world with what we thought to be the very best bag for the NorthCape-Tarifa ultra race.
We've spent months researching all the famous and specialized brands. We checked all the features of every bag and it's only after purchasing and testing a few from various brands that we realized that we wanted the best made by Arkel. The biggest challenge was to fit Yumi's small frame bike with large capacity bags and to fit J-Philippe's large frame with high volume and very stable packs. Arkel offered the best of quality that matched all our requirements. We're very grateful to them for sponsoring us, as their convenient and fully waterproof bags will allow us to transport and use all our gear efficiently.
Discover Arkel and their superb quality line of cycling bags:
Enlightened Equipment offers ultralight camping quilts for backpacking, bikepacking, and paddling adventures. Down or synthetic compact quilt-style sleeping bags.
We looked for the best warmth to weight and packable ratio. With the Convert from Enlightened Equipment, we found the lightest, warmest, most packable combination of down quilt and sleeping bag. The versatility of this sleeping system will be of tremendous help during our race.
Discover Enlightened Equipment and their light and comfy line of sleeping systems:
On such an ultimate race, nutrition is essential, and as it is a totally self-supported race, we can't carry much and will have to eat what we find. At least we're bringing the best supplements with us.
Being highly subject to cramping, for the last two decades, Jean-Philippe tried dozens of products and Tower Nutrition's Electroright is the best Electrolyte replacement pills we've ever used. We always take some on long rides, short intense rides or on any hot days. We really need Electroright and will carry as many tablets as we possibly can.
Tower Nutrition also provided us with two other products:
Heed is their longtime testing no-sugar sports drink. Many long-distance athletes when reaching a state of dehydration have nausea and are unable to swallow anything sweet at the time when the body most needs energy. We only wished we could carry more Heed with us.
Joint Smart helps promote and protect your joints mobility and on such long distances, it may come very handy.
Discover Tower Nutrition and their essential line of sport nutrition products:
See.Sense - The Smart way to be seen
We've already been using See.Sense's smart and highly visible ICON tail lights for a few years and absolutely loved them.
The ICON light is the brightest and smartest light. Filled with sensors it evaluates the ambient light to control the optimal output while preserving the battery life. It also packs many other features making it the world's smartest light.
For the NorthCape-Tarifa race, See.Sense generously provided us with full sets of ACE lights. The ACE lights are smaller, lighter and equally smart as their award-winning ICON lights. We feel much safer using See.Sense.
Discover See Sense and their award-winning smart lights:
We were looking for mirrors that wouldn't obstruct our vision, that wouldn't weight anything, that wouldn't be in our way when not in use, and that would be as discreet as possible. That's too many features to combine in a single mirror, and TheBeam created an innovative product that pushes the limit of blending maximum functionality with minimum riding interference.
TheBeam mirrors will increase our safety through the multiple country crossing of Europe and the 16g mirror will not slow us down from climbing mountains.
Discover TheBeam and their inovative products:
Ultra Cycling History
The 1891 Paris-Brest-Paris, was the origin of the Tour de France and was long considered the ultimate long-distance cycling race. A few decades ago, the Audax club gave it a rebirth as a Randonnee cycling event where finishing times were not given any importance and where participants join to share a great experience with other cyclists. This new edition gave birth to many similar Randonnees around the world.
Ultimate cyclists in their quest for a constant increase in challenge needed to push the physical limits even further.
Race Across America (RAAM) started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race. It's the longest fully supported endurance-cycling race. This race requires lots of logistic planning and a dedicated support team to assist cyclist along the way. It caters more to highly financed and sponsored pro or semi-professional teams. It may be the most famous multi-day one stage racing, but it’s far from being the most challenging.
Ultra-Cycling continued to evolve, increasing in length, elevation and difficulties by forbidding any support and assistance.
Extreme Ultra Cycling Races
In 2013, Europe launched its first Transcontinental Race covering 4,000 km from London to Istanbul as a new type of ultra-endurance race that needs to be done independently without any support. Cyclists are entirely self-sufficient and need to carry all their gear with them, along with purchasing food along the journey. This hugely increased the challenges that one could face in RAAM.
The Trans-Am Bike Race launched in 2014 with 4,400 miles (7,100 km) long, and a total elevation gain of around 51,000 meters (167,000 ft) of climbing, also to be completed entirely self-supported. It was instantly crowned the world’s toughest cycling ultra-endurance race.
The American race was followed in 2017 by the inauguration of the 5,500 km Indian Pacific Wheel Race around Australia.
The Trans Am Bike Race remained the world’s toughest one stage non-stop self-supported bicycle race until it was kicked to second place in 2018 by the new world's toughest race of NorthCape–Tarifa.